Jason Kask, a graduate student and teaching assistant in the School of Kinesiology, arrived in Sochi on March 2, 2014. He is a part of the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Ski Team as a service technician in the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia. Kask, along with the other technician, is responsible for preparing the athletes skis, a process that involves managing the fleet of test skis, finding the best wax, and understanding the structure and grid for each race. Below is a log of his adventures, in his own words.
March 19, 2014
The last day of racing was crazy, the men skied well and Oksana won a bronze medal! It was another great day. The VI race in the morning got a little congested with all of the standies on course at once; the snow was really fast so there were quite a few crashes. Once the sitting race started it was slushy again and we are well versed in how to wax for that! Immediately after the race we had to tear down the wax room and pack up for our trip home. It was quite chaotic. There were volunteers trying to trade their gear for ours (I scored a few cool hats). Some volunteers were crying, it must have been quite an experience for them.
After we packed up and said goodbye we went to the athlete village for the last time and dropped off our gear. We were able to check into our flight at the lodge which was really convenient. Since our bags were packed we dropped them off and got changed into the closing ceremony kit. Then we started the process of getting to the Coastal Village. When we arrived there we walked into the stadium without much ceremony and took our seats. The stadium was not packed but pretty close. There was a ten minute countdown on the big screens and during that time the entire stadium did the wave, for the whole time. It took 50 seconds for the wave to go all the way around, in the beginning it was pretty impressive but after a while we were done doing the wave. The ceremony was again impressive, not quite as crazy as the opening but very fun to watch. After it was over all the participants were invited to the floor to dance and mingle. There I traded my hat for a Finish one and we talked to some of the other athletes.
Then we went to the athlete village for some food and a little sleep. Some people went out and met some of the Norwegians for some trading; they all came back with Norwegian rain jackets which was good trade since it was pouring! At 2:30am we loaded the busses and headed for the airport. At 5am we flew to Frankfurt and arrived at 5am (3 hour flight and 3 hour time change). There we collected our bags and checked into our flights to the States. Then we got some good German baked goods and waited to fly home. There was a sense of relief once we arrived in Germany because the Crimean referendum was taking place and there were some tensions about its result and our being in Russia. Most of us then flew to Washington D.C. and again collected our bags and went through customs. From there I flew home! A great experience in a place I may never have gone with great athletes and coaches!
March 15, 2014
Yesterday was the last biathlon race here at the Paralympics. We were hoping for a medal and it turned out to be one of the most exciting races I have ever watched. Our athlete Andy Soule was having a great race. He didn’t miss a shot (for the week he hit 50 out of 50 shots). Going into the final ski leg he was 14 seconds ahead of fourth place, with two Russians in front of him and one behind. After his last shooting we sprinted from the stadium to cheer him on. On the final climb he was skiing great but looked like he was not quite as far ahead of 4th place. As he passed we all ran back to the stadium to watch him finish. Once he was across the line we all started at the jumbotron as the third Russian crossed the line. A few seconds later the results flashed on the screen and Andy finished 4th, six seconds behind third. We were all a disappointed but he skied an awesome race, the only one that can mix it up with the Russians. We later found out that he crashed after he exited the biathlon range and fell out of his sled. It took him about 20 seconds to get back in which accounted for the time he lost in the last lap. It was interesting after the race because a lot of coaches came up and asked what happened, and said that they were rooting for us. It isn’t that there is any animosity towards the Russians but they are kind of like the Yankees, they win so much everyone wants somebody to beat them.
At the last medal ceremony we were at there were a few Ukrainians that won medals. To protest their dispute with Russia over Crimea they were covering up their medals during the ceremony. It is interesting to see the tension between the two nations; however, the fans cheer quite loudly for the Ukrainians at the cross country stadium.
Today was the relay. There were two different races, each with a different handicap. In the first race our team went back and fourth with two others for 6-4th place. It was great to watch. In the second race many of our athletes had great performances. This afternoon we started packing up the wax room and travel waxing skis so that they are not damaged in transit back to the U.S. We have the 5/10km cross country race tomorrow which our team has a chance to do very well in.
This evening we were eating dinner and the everyone in the dining hall started making deals to trade for clothing. It was fun seeing what everyone had and was interested in trading for. It will be fun to see what happens tomorrow at the venue!
March 12, 2014
This morning we woke up to four inches of snow. We had a large crew waxing because the conditions were so different than they had been. The snow made it look like winter again at Laura Cross Country Stadium. We were able to get all the skis waxed just before the start, it was busy with almost everyone racing. In the qualifier we advanced two men and two women to the heats of the sit ski race. They all made it into their respective finals (each of six athletes). We also qualified one athlete in the visually impaired category to the semi-finals. The men were fifth and sixth in the sitting final and our women were second and fourth! It was a really exciting race coming down to a few inches! Tatyana McFadden took the silver for USA and Oksana Masters was fourth. It was a great race to watch!
Tomorrow is the off day before our last three races. As a wax technician we don’t get an off day as we will have to test wax to make sure we can continue to have some of the best skis in the field.
March 11, 2014
The last sitting cross country race was the men’s and women’s long sit ski race. The team as a whole did great! Oksana Masters won the first medal for an American woman in cross country skiing taking second place. It was great to watch her ski. Lots of things went well on the day to make it happen in addition to all the months of hard training she has done. We were all pretty elated to have someone win a medal after being so close the other day.
After the races I decided to leave the compound and go see what it was like in town. I took the gondola off the mountain and exited the security perimeter. From there I caught a bus to Rhosa Khatour and met another coach there. We watched some medal ceremonies and wandered around town. Finding the right bus to get home is a little tricky but we made it back to the gondola.
Yesterday we had a standing race and again we had some good races. I had a chance to sit in the stands and watch the women’s race because we did not have anyone racing. It was fun to sit in the crowd and mingle with people that were really excited about ski racing! In the afternoon we all boarded the shuttles and headed to the medal ceremony. It was a great moment to see Oksana receive her silver medal. From there a few of us decided to walk back to the gondola. It was a great evening for it and we saw some neat shops. At the bottom of the gondola to the Endurance Village, there is a mall that has a water park, ice rink, bowling alley, movie theater and billiard hall, as well as some restaurants. The whole place has a space theme so it is neat to see Russian space program memorabilia.
Today we and a biathlon race in the fog. Our athletes again did really well, one taking fifth behind four Russians. The fog made it hard to see at times so we were lucky the distance to the target it only 10 meters, instead of the 50 meters used in able body races. This afternoon we prepped for tomorrow’s sprint! The weather may change to snow tonight so it could be a busy day for the wax technicians tomorrow!
March 8, 2014
Last night we went to the opening ceremonies. It was quite the trip from our village, but it was worth it. The buildings in the coastal village are amazing! The procession was a ton of fun with all of the nations mingling and taking pictures. I didn’t know what to expect as far as the turnout, but the stadium was packed. The roar of the crowd when Russia came in was spectacular! From our seats it was hard to see the show because they were a little lower than the stage, but we could watch on the screens.
The performances were great.
Today was the first race, the short biathlon. There were two shootings and we had two athletes have an awesome day. The two of them shot clean and skied very well into fourth place. It was really fun to watch. While we were testing wax, there was a constant stream of spectators to the venue. They would cheer every time someone hit a shot. It was even on TV while we were eating lunch in a yurt by our waxing cabin.
All in all a great day, everyone is hoping for a medal or two in the days to come!
March 5, 2014
It has been busy here at the Endurance Village for Team USA. Last night the athletes arrived around dinner time. After their arrival we brought the biathlon rifles up to the venue and sorted skis so that the process for training in the morning would be a little smoother. The athletes’ rooms are really nice!
This morning the other technician and I got to the venue early and worked on testing wax. We helped scrape the wax that was put on skis for travel (to protect them from scratches in transit) off for training then headed out to ski in some newly ground skis (a way to reform the base for a different snow type). We then ran a series of tests through a speed trap to see which kind ofwas was running the fastest today. The conditions have been pretty consistent so this should be good information for the coming races. We then rewaxed all the athletes’ skis and did another round of tests.
It was great skiing today with so many athletes on the course. Many of the teams arrived yesterday from around the world. This year at the Paralympics there are 45 nations represented. The conditions are great in the morning and get a little sloppy in the afternoon, its like skiing through mashed potatoes. The warm weather more than makes up for the added challenge though!
March 2, 2014
Today I traveled from Munich, Germany to Sochi, about a three hour plane ride. Upon arrival I traveled with Team USA to the Coastal Village so we could get our credentials. It was t-shirt and shorts weather which was a nice change of place!
From there I traveled to the Endurance Village, because of a communication error and the inability of myself or the other service technician to speak more than three words of Russian we got to see both the cross country and biathlon venues on the way. Once we finally arrived at the Village we gave the bus driver a couple of Team USA pins and were escorted by a USOC representative to our rooms. There we got the keys to our wax cabins and headed to dinner. At dinner foods were sorted by region of their origin. The food was pretty good, it was fun to see the foods of other cultures when they are prepared for people of that culture.
Tomorrow we will head to the venue and get to work!